Columnist and former Chelsea winger Pat Nevin provides his thoughts on recent events and explains why, in football, the fortunes of a team can change very quickly...
Last week I was talking about a few grumbles that could be heard around Stamford Bridge even though we won the match against Newcastle. Well, there has been more low-level disgruntlement but that is only to be expected after losing out to Arsenal, not our favourite pastime. Most of the disenchantment has been around the same themes; the play has a similar style most weeks, the first 11 scarcely changes and Eden Hazard playing as a centre-forward still simmers away with some supporters.
As I said last week, I do think the Eden, Pedro and Willian frontline option is only a short-term, or sporadically-used measure, while another solution is sought. From everything we hear on the grapevine, efforts are being made to resolve the issue. However, it maybe shouldn’t be a surprise that it has taken a little while. When trying to sort out that specific position, as an old manager used to say to me: ‘Everything in our favour is against us!’
Maurizio Sarri has been our coach for a relatively short time and, remember, it was well on in the summer before he was able to start work at Chelsea. Only then could he assess what was there for him and what would be suitable for his needs.
So surely, I hear you say, by the first of January decisions should have been made and the business done? Sadly it doesn’t work that way, deals are complicated by a number of things, not least by the fact that the selling or loaning clubs are keen to get the best deal and that involves brinkmanship. That often means delaying it as long as possible to get the deal. So unless you are willing to pay a premium and accept a few caveats, it can drag on.
It is no surprise the Christian Pulisic [pictured below] deal was done quickly. The club was clearly willing to shell out at the very top end of his expected value and he was then loaned back immediately to Borussia Dortmund, as they held all the cards in the negotiations. So you can get the deals done early in January, but there is a price to pay to ensure you aren’t dragged into a bidding war. Other big clubs were definitely hovering around the American and Chelsea knew it.
The other thing that isn’t in the club’s favour in trying to tie up a quick deal is that a centre-forward is usually the hardest player to source, well a centre-forward who guarantees goals, anyway. Look at the world-renowned strikers that have come to the club over the years. A few have come nowhere near the expected rate of goals, however many tens of millions of pounds were handed over.
You also want one who not only guarantees goals, but who also suits the system that Chelsea are playing at the moment. That sounds pretty easy, but it isn’t necessarily so. I remember watching Fernando Torres, in particular, struggle to get enough goals and it wasn’t because he was suddenly a bad player, but more that Chelsea didn’t play anything like the way Liverpool did, which had of course suited him perfectly.
The question has been asked, do we need another big striker who is physical? After all, Chelsea fans have loved the likes of Didier Drogba and Diego Costa who were hugely successful, but would that really suit Sarri-ball?
Even when you find the man who can play the way you want him to play, who is likely to score the goals, who has the pedigree, who is fully fit and available and isn’t ridiculously priced, then you still have to hope that he has the right temperament. This isn’t always easy to know, you can talk to people he has worked with, but how will he manage arriving within the group at his new club right in the middle of the season? Strikers often want to come in and be seen as the top dog right away. Good luck with that considering the characters around our training ground. If you have staff that have worked with him before, however, then that certainly helps.
It does seem a little gloomy at the moment but, as ever, you have to get your head up to see the bigger longer-term picture. Right now, that also means looking around at our nearest challengers. Yes, Arsenal won fair and square at the weekend but they had been on a very average run up until then. They lost to West Ham and Southampton lately as well as going out of the Carabao Cup to Spurs and also being soundly thumped 5-1 by Liverpool.
Even Spurs, who we meet on Thursday, will be without Kane, Son and now potentially Dele Alli for a while and as such their fans are also rightly concerned. That is before you consider that they only had three points from nine before the Fulham match at the weekend and they were only six seconds away from dropping another two there!
Manchester United obviously look a real threat just now on their winning run after ditching Jose Mourinho, but their fans were in the depths of depression before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer somehow managed to turn their confidence taps back on. Who saw that coming?
In short, it can all turn around very quickly. Every couple of weeks a panic grips at least one of the sides chasing two of the top four places that are still up for grabs. If we are going to get one of those spots I suspect we will have to acquire well over the next few days. We are all aware that a striker is being sought and that just might make the difference.
Having said all that, if we simply turn around the one-goal deficit in the cup semi-final against Spurs on Thursday, then that will go a very long way to cheering us all up. A major lift in the confidence levels and the spirits always follows a win over Spurs. A new striker on top of that and the incision we have been looking for may be just around the corner.